European Soils Must Be Protected

Two new EU reports show just how serious soil degradation has become in Europe. The reports show that between 1990 and 2006 at least 680 acres (275ha) of soil per day were permanently lost through soil sealing – the covering of fertile land by impermeable material – amounting to an area the size of Leinster. Soil erosion by water is now estimated to affect 1.3 million sq km in Europe, an area equivalent to 2.5 times the size of France. Soil degradation affects our capacity to produce food, prevent droughts and flooding, stop biodiversity loss, and tackle climate change.

The reports underline the need for action to prevent the ongoing deterioration of Europe’s soils. Erosion, soil sealing and acidification have all increased in the past decade, and the trend is likely to continue unless challenges such as rising land-use, the inefficient use of natural resources and the preservation of organic matter in soil are addressed. According to the policy report, five years after the adoption of a Soil Thematic Strategy, there is still no systematic monitoring and protection of soil quality across Europe. This means that existing actions are not sufficient to ensure an adequate level of protection for all soil in Europe.

In preparation for action at EU level, the Commission has been working to support soil awareness initiatives, research and monitoring projects, such as LUCAS, a survey on land cover, land use and agro-environmental indicators run by Eurostat. The Commission has also continued to integrate the objective of soil protection into other EU policies, including agriculture and rural development. Around Eur3.1 billion has been allocated to the rehabilitation of industrial sites and contaminated land as part of the Cohesion Policy for the period 2007-2013.

In addition to ongoing actions aimed at addressing soil degradation, the Commission intends to support research and soil monitoring, finalise guidelines on soil sealing and integrate further soil considerations in the upcoming review of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive. The Commission will also propose accounting for land use, land use change and forestry emissions (LULUCF) as part of the EU’s climate change commitment for 2020, as well as work at the international level to promote soil-related initiatives.

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